Culture clash spurs unease in LGBT center’s space

Correction appended

When GW’s lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender students are seen walking up a rainbow-adorned stairway in their new G Street townhouse, some say they feel judged.

Marika Lee, vice president of Allied in Pride, said multiple students have come to her saying they feel uncomfortable with this fall’s relocation of the LGBT Resource Center to a shared space with the Multicultural Student Services Center – a move some considered a triumph that broadened the definition of diversity on campus.

But as Lee explained, there are also drawbacks.

“We worry about students being afraid that they will be outed if they are seen going to the third floor of the [Multicultural Student Services Center] if they usually use resources in the MSSC besides the LGBT Resource Center,” Lee said.

Last year, the center was housed in a corner of the Marvin Center’s fourth floor, allowing students to enter more discretely. Lee, who worked with the resource center for two years, said LGBT students would call the office and ask her if there were people around, fearing they’d be seen entering the room.

With the move, she said LGBT students who are also black, Latino or Asian suddenly saw a collision of their previously separate worlds.

Lee and fellow Allied in Pride executive board member Adam Frankel said they are working with these students outside of the MSSC space to help them come out on campus.

Freshmen who are newly out feel especially uncomfortable entering a building where the multicultural services staff has had little experience with LGBT students, Lee said. In past years, the MSSC has provided support exclusively for racial and ethnic communities like African Americans, Latinos, Asians and Native Americans.

Allied in Pride has worked with the resource center, an office that grew out of the group’s lobbying efforts in 2009, to draw more students to its services. She said she does not know if staff members are aware of the problem, because students tend to bring their concerns to their peers.

After lacking a director for most of the last two years, the office is still adjusting to its new leadership as it seeks to “maintain a cohesive and continuing presence,” Lee said. Tim Kane, who is openly gay, assumed the center’s top post in March 2011 after serving as the director of the Office of Community Service.

Michael Komo, a graduate student who successfully led the lobbying effort to bring gender-neutral housing to campus in 2010, said he doesn’t think “LGBT students of color…would be ‘outed’ simply by using the facilities.”

“The LGBT Resource Center doesn’t ‘list’ or ‘out’ anyone who uses its services,” Komo said in an e-mail, adding that friends of the LGBT community utilize the resources as well.

The LGBT Resource Center’s new home within the multicultural community has created opportunities to link minority populations that do not typically interact, Komo said.

“Historically, there has been a low percentage of folks coming out in communities of color. We have an opportunity for the LGBT community and communities of color to educate each other,” Komo said.

“It’s such a logical place for us to go,” he said. Komo, founder and president of the graduate LGBT advocacy group Allied in Pride Graduate Students, stressed that the most effective activism will occur when all minority groups work together, and believes the new link would help advance common goals.

The LGBT Resource Center, which was founded in 2008, was moved under the MSSC umbrella last fall to expand the University’s view of diversity, MSSC director Michael Tapscott said.

“There are so many areas where our programs, ideologies and opportunities overlap. The MSSC has partnered with the LGBT community for many years, and our collaboration has a long-standing foundation,” Tapscott said.

Both centers’ directors declined to comment on whether they were aware that the shared space has made some LGBT students uncomfortable.

Tapscott said the center has developed new educational programs, such as workshops for students and staff geared toward informing the campus community about LGBT concerns.

Kane said the center’s larger office space in a more relaxed setting draws students in for social events. One of the center’s aims is for students to meet and connect with each other in an open environment, he said.

“Some people say we should work towards a day when an LGBT resource center is no longer necessary,” Kane said. “But I think it’s just as much about celebrating who you are as anything else.”

This post was updated on Feb. 3, 2012 to reflect the following:
The Hatchet incorrectly reported that the LGBT Resource Center was founded in 2009. The center opened in 2008. We regret this error.

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